When the Mavs traded for Kristaps Porzingis almost one year ago, there were three other players who came along with the prized then 23-year-old big man. Courtney Lee, a veteran wing who came over with a $12.8 million price tag for this season. Trey Burke, an undersized score-first guard, appeared in 25 games for Dallas before departing in free agency last summer. Finally, Tim Hardaway Jr., perceived as a low efficiency/volume shooting scorer who was attached to what was perceived as one of the worst contracts in the NBA when he signed it back in the summer of 2017.
It is hard for Hardaway Jr., the son of an All-NBA point guard, to ever meet the expectations of the illustrious career of his father. It’s only multiplied whenever you sign a four year/$71 million contract after your fourth season in the league. In the 2017-2018 season after signing the contract, his shooting percentages took a dip and he missed a 20 game stretch in the middle of the season due to a leg injury. In 46 games before the trade with a bad Knicks team last season, Hardaway Jr. took a leap in scoring at 21.1 points per game but his efficiency was at an all-time low while shooting just 39% overall from the field.
Mavs fans only perceived Hardaway Jr. and even Lee as the “Porzingis Tax”: The steep price for acquiring such an elite talent at a young age. Unfortunately, neither did much to sway that mindset while the Mavericks wallowed through the post-trade deadline portion of last season heavily depleted after roster shaking trades. Hardaway Jr. appeared in just 15 games after the trade, shooting 40% overall from the field and missing the final 11 games of the season with a stress fracture in his leg.
The Mavericks improved their roster this summer and had THJ slated in the sixth man role heading into this season. He struggled mightily in this role and his perception with Mavs fans reached an all-time low. He was often the main source of fans’ frustrations anytime the team struggled and one would have to hope none of his family ever searched his name on Twitter during a bad game. Things reached an all-time low when on November 18th, Hardaway Jr. was held scoreless on 0-5 shooting in a season low 15 minutes during a Mavericks win over the Spurs. Things finally took a turn in the right direction just two nights later.
Seth Curry had started 10 of the 11 games leading into November 20th’s home game with the Golden State Warriors, but whenever he had to miss two games due to illness, coach Rick Carlisle decided to insert Hardaway Jr. back into the starting lineup for the first time since injuring his leg at the end of last season. Hardaway Jr. responded immediately with a 20 point night on 6-7 shooting that included him going a perfect 4-4 from deep as the Mavericks destroyed the short-handed Warriors, 142-94.
Hardaway Jr. has started every game he has been active for the Mavericks ever since. Rick Carlisle discussed his decision to insert Hardaway Jr. into the starting lineup with the media last week.
“He is an NBA starter, there is no question about that,” Carlisle said. “The question was whether or not it would be better for the team for him to play in the sixth man role or to be a starter. We gave it an honest look for a significant number of games early in the year. I think it was at the Golden State game and Seth (Curry) was ill, so Tim got to start that night and it was pretty clear that it was probably the way we should go.”
It’s hard to argue with the results for Hardaway Jr. personally and for the team as well.
In 26 games as a starter, he is averaging 16.5 points per game with 47/43/81 shooting splits. The team’s record is 18-8 in those games.
In 13 games off the bench, he is averaging just 10.2 points per game with 34/30/73 shooting splits. The team’s record is 8-5 in those games.
It seems to be clear that Hardaway Jr. is the beneficiary of great looks in the Mavericks all-time efficient offense led by Luka Doncic. THJ is shooting 42.3% on catch and shoot three pointers this season, second to only Seth Curry among Mavericks playing significant minutes.
Another staple of his offensive repertoire has been his nifty catch, dribble a couple times, then pull up for a jumper. He is shooting 44.2% on pull up jumpers this season. While that number may not knock you out of the park, it is very solid in comparisons to others. Luka Doncic, who’s hailed for his pull up/step-back three is shooting just 34.6% on over nine pull up shots per game. For players who shoot a similar amount of pull up shots per game as THJ (4.0), Anthony Davis shooting 37.3% and Ja Morant is shooting 40.3%.
This system has provided a lot of great shooting opportunities for Hardaway Jr. and he is certainly loving the opportunities and support he gets from his teammates and coaching staff.
“The ball movement, everybody is spaced out,” he said in praise of the Mavericks offense. “You can attack on any given opportunity and coach wants you to be aggressive. So you put all those things together and you get the confidence from coach to go out there and execute, it makes your life a lot easier.”
One of the biggest roles Hardaway Jr. fills for this Mavericks team is by providing fiery emotion and showmanship out on the court. There have been countless amounts of big Mavs runs capped by a made jump shot by him and when the opposing team calls a timeout, THJ is screaming at the top of his lungs and directing the crowd to amp up the noise.
I'd have to agree with Carlisle on this one:
"The energy that he brings to our team is infectious."
I'm ready to run through a wall when THJ starts screaming after a big bucket or he directs the crowd. Besides Luka, he's really the only guy to have that showmanship on the team. pic.twitter.com/Rmwg23cIi1
— Dylan Duell (@DylanDuell) January 18, 2020
Like indicated in the tweet above, Rick Carlisle thinks highly of the energy Hardaway Jr. is bringing to the court each and every night. This sentiment is shared by others on the team as well. When THJ gets hot, his teammates notice it and build off of it.
“When he gets hot like that, he kinda has that mindset where you can see him getting hyped up,” Maxi Kleber said after Friday’s win over the Trail Blazers. “He hypes up everybody else. It’s a lot of fun to watch him.”
It’s becoming clearer with each passing game, the Mavericks won’t be able to reach their maximum potential without Hardaway Jr. thriving in his role like he is now. With 49/43/73 shooting splits in the month of January, Hardaway Jr. continues to build his résumé as one of the most valuable Mavs this season.
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